Until recently, climate change was a phenomenon debated by scientists, policymakers, and Greenpeace crusties. But doomsday prophets pushing climate fear into the mainstream have anxious liberals running for professional help.
As activist groups around the world prepare to stage a global ‘climate strike' on Friday, eco-warriors in Washington DC have been staging smaller rallies and outreach events all summer. Behind the drum circles, yoga classes and hacky-sacking that accompanied such events, a cauldron of anxiety bubbled.
According to the Daily Beast, millennial activists -though striving for the same goals as concerned climate scientists worldwide- are losing their minds. Convinced that the world is ending, they're turning to group therapy sessions to deal with "their feelings of despair, depression, and anxiety."
"People would say, ‘Isn't it great that the world is ending in 12 years?' It's in the back of people's minds, and it's constantly over our heads," an organizer with the Sunrise Movement told the news site. "There's a real fear for the next generation. Thinking about the future, I can't imagine planning for the future when we only have 12 years."
Another attendee at the rallies, Psychiatrist Alex Trope, believes that mental health is being severely impacted by the changing climate, and recommends those afflicted seek out "climate-aware therapists." Trope has even rounded up like-minded shrinks to form the ‘Climate Psychiatry Alliance' to cater to these new clients. Failing that, organizers at the events have been advising "coping mechanisms including breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and stretching."
But, the howling masses may cry, all the stretching in the world won't matter if the world is ending in 12 years. True, except the world's not ending.
That date was calculated by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year, and is an estimate of the date by which we should slow the global temperature rise enough to avoid further damage to our planet in years to come. In the words of one of the report's authors, this rise, even unchecked, "is not going to feel like Armageddon to the vast majority of today's striking teenagers."
Even New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the leading proponents of the Sunrise Movement-inspired ‘Green New Deal' on Capitol Hill, admitted that "you'd have to have the social intelligence of a sea sponge to think it's literal."
But tell that to the protesters raging against the dying of the light. Tell that to the Extinction Rebellion activists gluing themselves to trains in London and demanding the government tax society back to year zero in the name of Mother Earth. Tell that to schoolchildren coming home in tears after being told their children will be born into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or the headline writers peddling this doomsday porn for clicks.
Scientists have been working to understand and combat the very real threat of climate change for decades. But cult leaders have always sold their followers the notion of an end date, a looming apocalypse that can only be averted by swallowing the literal or metaphorical Kool-Aid. It's called ‘millenarianism,' a term that refers to a group's belief that there is a cataclysm coming after which "all things will be changed."
David Koresh's Branch Davidians were a millenarian cult, whose standoff with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms left 80 dead in 1993. So too was the Heaven's Gate cult, whose members committed mass suicide in 1997, believing the poison would deliver them to salvation aboard an alien spacecraft.
The Y2K and 2012 phenomena can also be considered millenarian panics, when whole swathes of the earth's population thought the world would end because computers would mistake the year 2000 with the year 1900, or because the ancient Mayan calendar completed its 5,126 year cycle in 2012.
Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion are the latest in a long line of millenarian doomsayers. From Thunberg declaring "we probably don't even have a future anymore," to scientists predicting biblical floods and plagues of locusts as the planet's divine retribution, to the media's efforts to label the modern heretics "climate science deniers," the climate cultists are embracing millenarianism wholesale. Only this time the schoolchildren walk out of class to march on parliament, and not to retake Jerusalem, as the ‘Children's Crusaders' did in the 13th Century.
The endpoint of all of this is a mystery. Whether the crusaders get their way and burn car owners, meat eaters and "climate science deniers" on carbon-offset pyres; or whether the world's policymakers and power brokers smile and nod at the protesters and continue business as usual will be figured out in the coming decades.
But as the "climate therapists" and "healing sessions" being held in Washington DC show, the grim predictions of the proselytizers are already warping the minds of their adherents.
"Stoking panic and fear creates a false narrative that can overwhelm readers, leading to inaction and hopelessness," science writer Sheril Kirshembaum wrote last month. "Arbitrary ‘time left to apocalypse' predictions are not evidence based and the story of climate change doesn't fit neatly into brief bullet points competing for your attention," she added.
But bullet points scare the shit out of people, driving them to the sermons of Thunberg and the gurus, and then to the climate therapists. How long before the climate suicides start? And how long will it then take us to recognize organizations like the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion for the millenarian doomsday cults that they are?
By Graham Dockery
Graham Dockery is a journalist based in Ireland.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.